The Player: Evans has No. 1 spot in mind as he plots Cingular's course

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If all goes as expected, sometime at the end of the year Daryl Evans, VP-advertising and marketing communications, will wake up one morning to find his company, Cingular Wireless, has leapfrogged from the No. 3 position to No. 1 in the marketplace, thanks to the $41 billion acquisition of AT&T Wireless.

It might sound like a marketers' dream, but Mr. Evans faces a precarious road ahead, starting with spending the bulk of 2004, as required by law, continuing to compete with AT&T Wireless at a time when other carriers have declared open poaching season on AT&T Wireless subscribers. Then, overnight, once federal regulators give their final blessing, Mr. Evans will be charged with keeping AT&T Wireless' 21.9 million consumers in the Cingular fold.

Cingular must "acquire new [first-time cellphone] users, and do a better job of keeping the ones" it has, he said, particularly as the category evolves from one persuading the 126 million of Americans without cellphones to get one, to an all-out share war.

Mr. Evans believes Cingular's customer-friendly strategy, as articulated in its tagline "Cingular Fits You Best," is a strong positioning to do battle. Its "rollover" feature, which allows subscribers to keep leftover minutes from month to month, is "a powerful hook," he said.

`fast forward'

On a basic level, the merged networks likely will support the pro-consumer positioning, with Cingular's technology allowing for better services and lower prices. On the innovation front, Cingular has added "Fast Forward," in which consumers can put their wireless phone into a device that allows it to ring through landlines. Mr. Evans has even taken an industry leadership position in a number of promotions, opening up a broadcast NCAA basketball contest to all cellphone users, and sending a fleet of vans around the nation explaining to all subscribers how to use advanced cellphone features.

Some industry analysts, however, view Cingular as "undifferentiated" in a treacherous marketplace. Cingular faces a well-entrenched and current No. 1 rival in Verizon Wireless, strongly positioned on a dependable network message. It must also contend with up-and-coming value/lifestyle player T-Mobile gaining steam, and with a new wave of entrants, including AT&T Corp. with a new AT&T Wireless offering. As Nigel Coe, VP-telecom analyst with Deutsche Bank Securities, put it: "Cingular doesn't have any discernable proposition." Others, such as independent telecom analyst Jeff Kagan, are calling Cingular "a work in progress. Coming up with their own identity is a challenge."

Still, Mr. Evans is confident Cingular will deal the most powerful marketing trump cards of the moment: bundling. Traditional phone companies, including Cingular owners BellSouth and SBC Communications, are expected to be strong in creating reasonably priced packages of local, long distance, wireless, broadband and even satellite TV services.

"From a strategy standpoint, bundles reduce churn," industry lingo for the rate of losing customers, Mr. Evans said. Consumers are less likely to pull out of contracts if they feel they are getting a bargain.

Andrew Robertson, president of Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide and president-CEO of BBDO North America, Cingular's agency, said Mr. Evans is a strategist who has "one eye on the long term while riding the realities of the short term."

Described by Mr. Robertson as a joke teller extraordinaire, Mr. Evans graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with a degree in finance and holds a Harvard M.B.A. He cut his marketing teeth on a number of agency jobs, including work on Coca-Cola Co.'s account at Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson, Atlanta. His stints at package-goods companies included time at Kimberly Clark Corp. marketing Kleenex.

"I just love advertising," Mr. Evans said, "the ideas, the sales people, the loudness and the craziness of the creative people." As he faces today's evolving wireless marketplace, that's a good thing.

Resume

Name: Daryl Evans

Age: 50

Now: VP-advertising and marketing communications, Cingular Wireless

Who: Born in the "Mayberry" town of Louisburg, N.C., Mr. Evans, known as a joke teller extraordinaire, studied finance but fell in love with advertising during a career that has spanned selling everything from tissue to Coke.

Challenge: To position Cingular so that it can easily absorb AT&T Wireless, and become a telecom behemoth if approved by the government, and steer the brand so it is capable of withstanding the evolution of the cellphone into a new media.

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